Senators propose fuel, casino taxes

The fuel-tax bill would generate $7 million yearly for highways.
Sunday, December 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Two Senate Republicans proposed tax increases on the first day Missouri lawmakers were allowed to pre-file bills for the legislative session that begins in January.

Tuesday, Sens. Jon Dolan, R-St. Louis County, and Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, took the opportunity to propose an increase in the state tax on motor fuels and on casino boat admissions, respectively.

Dolan, who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is proposing the legislature approve an annual-inflationary adjustment to the motor-fuels tax beginning in 2005. “It is time to talk about highway money and highway projects,” Dolan said.

Dolan said he estimates an inflationary adjustment would boost the fuel tax by about one-third of a cent per year, which would generate about $7 million in new revenue annually.

The fuel tax now stands at 17 cents per gallon and grossed $761 million during fiscal year 2004, according to the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Dolan said one motivation for his bill is the overwhelming approval by Missourians on Nov. 2 of Amendment 3, which changed the state constitution to require that all transportation-related revenue be funneled toward highway projects.

The measure passed with nearly 80 percent approval. Dolan said that signified to him that Missourians want more money spent on highways.

Bartle sponsored a bill that would increase the tax on casino gambling in Missouri by requiring that passengers who board casino boats pay $5 apiece, up from the current requirement of $2.

Bartle could not be reached for comment.

Jim Oberkirsch, chief financial analyst for the Missouri Gaming Commission, said the commission expects to collect $54 million in admissions taxes during fiscal year 2005, which ends in June 30.

Oberkirsch said the proposed tax increase of $3 would generate an extra $162 million per year.

Senate Communications Director Mark Hughes said legislators sometimes choose to pre-file their bills because they want to give the legislature as much time as possible to consider them.

“There is this long-standing presumption that bills with lower numbers are likely to be passed,” Hughes said. “This kind of reasoning is akin to those who try to get their name on the ballot first.”

Hughes, however, said the numbers assigned to bills don’t necessarily carry any significance when it comes to approval rates. “While there is a process involved in the orderly handling of bills, it is unfair to say that the number assigned to a bill designates its level of importance. The most important bills can be the first to be filed or the very last bills filed.”

Dolan said the bills filed by him and by Bartle do not conflict with Republican ideals.

“Bartle and I are about your biggest defenders against taxes,” Dolan said. “What we are reflecting with these bill proposals is the efficient management of our operations.”

Dolan said pre-filing his bill does not mean it will automatically be passed by the legislature or signed by the governor. He said it is just one of the many ideas he is exploring to enhance highway revenue.

“This bill is just another idea thrown on the pile that we will consider in regards to my plan for reforming highways in Missouri,” Dolan said. “I believe my job as chairman is to throw meat to the wolves and see how we do, which is exactly what I am doing.”

The last day legislators can file a bill is March 1, unless a bill is granted consideration by unanimous consent or by a majority vote of the elected members of the body.

Among local legislators, only state Rep. and House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, pre-filed bills. Harris is sponsoring a bill that would expand the notification rights of crime victims and witnesses.

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